“No Rose without Thorns” Flash Horror by Madeleine D’Este

1. Rose oil

The body was face-down on the kitchen floor. A halo of blood on the polished concrete. A woman with blonde highlighted hair. Another single person household. No sign of forced entry. The only witness, a cat with bloody paws.

Before they turned the body, I knew what we’d find. For four years, I’d been dreaming about the others. The first one was January 14th 2018. Easy to remember, it was the day before my thirty-fifth birthday. Of course, I’d seen worse. Car accidents with nothing but red pulp left behind. But there was something about these bodies that made my skin itch. How many murders made a serial killer? This was number four.

Enticed, you tap. You draw closer to your lit-up screen. Run your hungry eyes over my inventory. Wet your lips as you dream of what my wares will bring. The promises and fantasies in a bottle I sell. But do not fear, I have the perfect one for you.

Your heart flutters as your mind drifts, how my scents on your dewy curvaceous skin will transform you. How intoxicating you will be. His hard gaze on you. His stubbled chin scraping up your neck. His throaty moans. The wolf who wants to eat you alive.

Which one will you choose? The Egyptian priestess, the femme fatale, the tragic heroine. Musk. Rose. Cedarwood. Jasmine. A whisper of romance. A hint of lust. A lingering presence to haunt his dreams.

Staring at your hand-held rectangle, you choose.

2. Jasmine

I didn’t notice at first, it was a pup of a Constable who mentioned it. He was standing in the doorway taking up room.

‘Stinks,’ he grumbled.

At first I ignored him. Thought he meant the blood, he was green after all, couldn’t have been more than a few weeks out of training. I don’t even notice the stink of blood now.

I sniffed and grimaced. ‘I can’t smell anything.’

‘Perfume,’ he said.

I sniffed again. He was right. A floral scent hung in the air.

‘Recognise it?’ I said.

‘Nah. Just hate the stuff.’

The choice is made, your coins tumble my way. But your gold is not my goal. You will make payment in other ways. Not every patron is special enough for my individual attention. I am too wildly popular for that, and far too clever.

As the names rush past my eyes on the screen, I carefully select those worthy to receive a personal touch. Your name jumps from all the others. You chose Fairy Queen. I know you, you covet light-heartedness, flirtation, magic. You see yourself as dull, unworthy and empty. A squirt of my fairy dust at your chubby wrists and ankles will rouse the wolves and bring fun tumbling your way.

Before my little elves package up your purchase, I add a drop of something special to the vial. A concoction so secret I cannot even breathe when I list the ingredients. Handed to me through dreams and trances, after years of fasting and genuflecting, I now have the answer. And today the answer is you.

Swiftly my present weaves through the world. Along roads, conveyor belts and on bikes until a woman in day-glo yellow delivers the small brown box to your door. After another grey day of disappointment and smudged mascara, my gift is a bright spot. You tear open the wrapping and sniff the vial. Across the city, my lips part as I wait for you to take the first spray. We both close our eyes in unison, and swoon as one.

All alone, you sip white wine in your sheepskin boots and dowse yourself in my scent. A smile graces your lips as you snuggle into the couch and I congratulate myself. Once again I have chosen perfectly. But I must be patient, and I know how to be patient. The dosage must be exactly right.

3. Cedar wood

It was the coroner who named the notes. ‘Rose, jasmine and cedar wood,’ he said, sucking air in through his big nostrils. After a twenty-year career surrounded by the stench of death, how he could pin-point the smells, I’ll never know.

‘You know it?’

He squinted, then blinked. ‘No,’ he said eventually.

‘Thanks for nothing,’ I snorted.

Another dead-end. Waste of my time. I went back to looking for proper evidence.

— 

You are greedy, I don’t have to wait long. You ripened exceptionally and three days was all it took. Entranced by the scent, you lather on more and more until your home is a cloud of fairy dust. You leave the door open for me. Of course I know where to find you, you told me yourself. I slide in through the door and you don’t even blink. Your tortoiseshell cat hisses as I stride toward you, my blade gleaming in the flickering television glow. You welcome me with a smile, then loll back your head, exposing your blotchy throat. With the silver tip, I carve you a new smile from ear to ear. I peel back the skin and scoop the nodes from your throat, taking away my treasure in a glass jar.

As you jerk and splutter, then roll face-down on the hard floor, I take back my gift and every trace of my fairy dust, and leave the cat to your blood.

Within the hour, I sup on you, the perfect garnish to my rich venison stew. I raise my glass and say a toast. Here’s to one more year.


Madeleine D’Este is a Melbourne-based writer, podcaster and reviewer. Inspired by folklore and forteana, D’Este writes dark mysteries, including steampunk, historical fantasy and vampire tales. Her novel The Flower and The Serpent was nominated for an Australian Shadow for Best Novel in 2019.

Find Madeleine at www.madeleinedeste.com or @madeleine_deste on Twitter


“The Feverish Fast of Albert Drach” Dark, Surreal Microfiction by Karin Kutlay

It was the third day of Albert Drach’s fast. He had been eating null, inputting nought, defecating null, outputting nought. He was awaiting fever dreams to descend on him. He was awaiting descensions of the kind no one had known before, the way the sun’s sunset sets on the Polish Poppy Proletariat, intoxicated from hours with the black seed, who on their way home would imagine their wives had all slept with a purple fabric seller from Kiralyhida and poisoned their dinners. Albert Drach was awaiting such descensions.

And they did come unto him. (In parts.)

He threw his head back walking out of an ocean; his hair coalesced in one single strand splattering its salt water into a white sky and plopping on his back like a whip. He was groping pebbles in blue, black, and gray, crawling ahead in fast devolution from human form; this here rectangular rock larger than his palm and this here short shard of slippery volcanic vomit. He gasped for air as if his pastel pink lungs were fit for a muddy, pre-Cambrian ocean. Standing on a shore of pure stone, he looked ahead, and without a gaze could feel his nakedness, in waves emanating from his hips, not from shame or negation, but a viscous cold filling in his creaks.

Two and a half girls waited, leaning on layers of white rock squashed into each other for centuries. The half girl had one hand, only hand, in a gap in the wall – but no, it was more of a cliff looked from below, but no, it sharpened as it rose and stood alone, but no – and had her body asymmetrically made. Two feet and two calves and three quarters of a lower body and half a torso and one arm and one hand. It was an artist’s job, this, no sinew or stain in sight, everything perhaps unsuitable to the eye tucked inside a half-wet periwinkle dress. Albert Drach remembered not the name of the poet or the sculptor or the gynecologist, but remembered another immortal work of him, the god Elohim.

The other two sat in an awkward gang. Left girl had her legs crossed, again in periwinkle paper, ruffles rolling over boulders and bishop sleeves. Right girl held a Rodin pose, and a belt of red crepe paper encircled somewhere not her waist. Their faces pale and puffed, eyes small and round, hands fit for a life of craftsmanship at first sight, and after a thought, hands like those after a life of craftsmanship. Left spoke: “We were waiting for someone else.”


Karin is a sophomore studying Physics, from Turkey, and now living in California. She was long-listed for the 2022 Erbacce Poetry Prize, and this is her first published work.


“You Monster” Horror by Janelle Chambers

He paints over the blood on me again before she arrives. He makes my two beds. He vacuums and organizes the desk in my corner. He kicks a paint and blood splattered shirt under the bed and adjusts his tie. He opens my balcony door, but the miasma of copper and paint fumes only dance along the waves of air that rush in.

Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

I feel the clickety clack of six-inch pumps approach. Her tapping is a tickle just below my eye.

He turns up the music, filling me with the spirits of Louis Armstrong. “Come in,” he says, after opening me up.

“You alone?” Her voice is husky from too much smoking.

“I have Molly. And cash.”

She enters, pumps sinking into my softness.

“Sit,” he says.

“Cash first,” she says. She follows him to the balcony.

They light cigarettes and he holds out a baggy to her.

“Molly?”

“Cash first.”

“Relax,” he says.

She sighs, holds out her hand, her fingers wiggling.

He fumbles for his wallet. She snatches it, pulls out cash and stuffs it in the front pocket of her blouse.

“Molly?”

She puts out her cigarette and walks back inside. He follows, closing the balcony door behind him. Closing us all in together, before he strikes.

The bed groans, as if to say not again.

For a moment, Louis’ solo becomes an off-kilter duet, the cacophonous sounds of screaming, ripping fabric, the headboard against my stone body, and finally metal meeting flesh over and over. And over.  Two minutes tops; he’s getting better at this. My white is painted red again.

The music ends, the static of a record player pleading to be shut off. The souls of all the women he’s brought me slowly fill in the empty space.

He washes evidence of his masterpiece off his hands, down my drain, filling my veins. Her body lies on my bed, the only thing he won’t let me keep. He lies on the other bed, and faces her, watching.

Blood pools, the flowered quilt stealing color from her. She stares up at me, one pump hangs delicately from an unsupported foot. Any moment now.

The scratching of the record player mingles with the buzz of the bathroom’s fluorescent lights.

I wait for her to join me and mine, the meandering ghosts of women who close in to welcome her. But she doesn’t come.

She blinks, her ashen face coloring and I realize then, the red isn’t sticking to me like it had with the others. I feel my feast pulling away and I see her now. Like a flower, her smile grows, oh so slow. It stretches behind her ears, her lips thin and pale as her skin, until no lips remain, only a black curved line.

The shoe drops.

His head lifts, hair in his eyes.

Her hand moves to the knife in her gut. No nails, just skin.

I throb with the need for blood. My lights flicker. He can’t let her escape. I need her back. My reserves are dry, I feel the weight of me, the cold. But, she’s not…

He sits up, the bed groans as if to warn, don’t go there.

“What?”

“Bad boy,” she says.

He stands above her unblemished person. “No,” he says.

“Yes,” she says, and in one-two-three seconds she pulls the metal from her meat, jamming it into his hip. Out again, and then fun retribution to his stomach. Into his bicep.

The blood is there, out of my reach, until he hits the floor. She straddles his fallen form and who cares if he’s crying and pleading? My ladies’ faces contort in mocking horror and silent screams. They laugh at old phantasms of each perfect moment now gone horribly wrong.

And I? My carpet sponges up each red drop and it is good, and it is foul, but not enough.

She pulls the small bag of pills from his pocket.

“You’re a monster,” he rasps.

“And so are you,” she says. “Molly?” She dumps the pills down his throat, holding his lips closed. She carves a line that frames his face, and it is a great gift, a new masterpiece. I fill, and she stands, opening the balcony door for another smoke.


Janelle Chambers lives with her husband, two daughters, dog, ferret, and unknown number of fish. She is inspired by the works of Poe, the Grimm’s brothers and way too many fantasy writers to name. In addition to writing, she also hopes to successfully make it as a voice actress. 


“Two Beds, One Room” Dark Fiction by Angel Polanco

Liquid ambrosia in the form of a scorching cup of Cafe Bustelo is placed on the table. Outside the tiny one-bedroom with two-beds Washington Height apartment, the 1 train frivolously slithers from the tunnel. Violently shaking the timeline of picture frames that grace the antique dresser.

“This was the first thing I brought you. I was what? Fifth teen. I had that summer job at the sneaker store. Every time we walked past Rubio’s; you’d mention how you loved this dresser. You were so mad at me for spending my first check on it. But every time someone came by, you’d brag about it.” Henri said.

“How I slept through that raucous, I will never know,” Henri says, as she blissfully sleeps. There was a time when the wailing sirens, thundering trains, and medley of bachata, reggaeton and whatever the hip-hop track currently dominated the air waves, were lullabies.

“The Spanish translation for career is race. Isn’t that ironic?” Henri says, with his trademark devil-may-care smirk.

“I’ve been running non-stop. Chasing the dollar. The American Dream. What do I have to show for it?” He says, pausing to think.

“Honestly, I ran away. I ran from this one bedroom, two bed apartment. Trading the vibrancy of Little Quisqueya for the solitude of Long Island suburbia. I even shamefully clean in silence. I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I am. It’s not who you raised. You ran. You ran from traditional abusive parents and the drowning oppression of a third world country in the 80s. Arrived in New York at 16. A child with a child. How’d you do it all? Without losing yourself?”

A summer breeze gently enters through the open window. Carrying, with it the mouthwatering aromas of freshly baked pan Cubano from the corner bakery. Suddenly his stomach roars with the ferocity of a lion.

“I am craving your mangu and fried salami with the pickled red onions. I don’t remember the last time I had a plate,” Henri says.

Henri notices her hand hanging abnormally off the side of the bed. Carefully he moves towards that side of the bed. He closes his eyes savoring the scent of the boldly, rich chocolatey and nutty cup of hazel nectar. When he opens his eyes, his heart breaks. On the ground slightly out of her reach, is the 8×10 photograph, from the last time everyone was together.

Her birthday two years ago. Of course, he was late. Why? Now he couldn’t remember. Did he have a sales meeting that day? No, used work as an excuse hoping to avoid the event. She was changing. The poison of age began to grip her mind and body. Regardless he was late and worse, in bad spirits. Despite this she greeted him with love and a smile. It had been two years since she seen him. Her heart was always right even if her mind wasn’t.

“I remember this day. You called me William. Who is William? I don’t know. In the excitement of your birthday, Alyssa forgot to give you your pills and-,” he paused, fighting back regret. “I was so mad. I snapped at Alyssa. Who am I to snap at her? She’s been here, while like a little boy, I left. She dealt with the doctor visits, and I paid the bills. That was the deal, but she’s the one who bathed and fed you. She’s the one who changed your diapers.”

The venom that erupted from his mouth that caused ruined the festive night. Hateful words laced with pride. As he walked out the door, he saw his mother’s eyes. A look of confusion and sadness. He broke her heart, and she couldn’t even remember why. He didn’t even say good-bye.

He returns to his two beds, one room home much too late.

“Mommy I am so sorry. I was so stupid.  I should have been around. I’m sorry mommy. You needed me and I wasn’t there. I need you mommy.” Henri said, reaching to hold her hand. Tears flow from his eyes, uncontrollably. 

Her eyes open with the instinct of a mother who knows her child is in trouble. She screams, “HENRI!”

Alyssa rushes into the small room, embracing her… our distraught mother. “WHERE’S MY HENRI… WHERE’S MY HENRI…” His mother shouts weeping.

A gentle hand touches my shoulder. To Henri’s surprise, an ethereal, serene warmth surrounds him. Before he leaves, he looks at the picture one last time.


Angel is a Creative Writing Major at Full Sail University. After 15-years of training young sales professionals to communicate effectively through email and phone calls across various verticals. Angel has decided to leverage his talent for creative writing and storytelling to embark on a successful writing career.


“Flowers in the Woods” Dark Sudden Fiction by Anita Joy Balraj

“Forget-Me-Nots” Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

I went to the woods to meet Henry and Gertrude, then… Someone is at the door of my room. Mummy had painted flowers on the door to match with the floral pattern on the floor. I do love flowers, so pretty and delicate! Oh, it’s Mummy, she’s crying now on the floor. She is hugging my bridesmaid gown, how I love the way it glitters! I just wanted to see the pretty blue flowers deep in the woods and maybe see some birds, then… Daddy just ran in and held her, he seems to be crying too. Oh, he is so close to the jewelry box on my dresser! I do hope he doesn’t find the love letters from Henry, I have there. Rob just came in panting, with tears. He always makes me wonder if I really am the oldest. He is telling Daddy that they found me. I had finally found the blue flowers when someone called out my name, then… As soon as Rob spoke, Mummy fainted on my bed. He said I was found in the woods, at the bottom of the lake; I was dead.


Anita is a business analyst by profession and a poet by choice. She started writing when she was six, and has no plans to stop. 


“The Orange Tree” Fiction by Molly Osborne

We told our friends we bought the house because of the neighborhood and the beautiful front porch, but really it was because of the orange tree in the backyard. I grew up where winter has a stranglehold on everything living for at least half the year. After moving to Southern California, I was struck by the lemons, limes, avocados, and oranges that peeked out on branches over fences seemingly all year round.

   We moved in while the tree was still blossoming. In a few months’ time we would have a bounty of fruit that would become juices, marmalades, tarts, or sliced up and eaten for breakfast.

   When the first green fruits emerged, I’d find they’d quickly disappear. Birds, I thought. I purchased an enormous net and with the help of my husband and a questionable ladder, draped it over the top of the tree. And yet, the fruit still disappeared, never able to grow larger than a ping pong ball.

   I took out my ladder, searching in the areas that were the hardest to access. A hard, pockmarked fruit managed to make it twice as large as any other I had found, but it was covered in tiny bites, that had eaten away thick chunks of its flesh. Rodents, for certain.

   I laid out traps of all kinds; ones that snapped, ones that were sticky, ones that shut a little door and trapped the bastards after they went inside. Nothing was working. My fruit would die as infants. I even lured the neighbor’s cat over with treats. We’ll brush your coat, give you tuna, even lay a warm bed out for you on the patio. If you happen to see a rat or two when you are here, well, it would be great if you could—

The cat made barely a dent in the rat population. My tree was practically bare and I was beginning to think I’d lose the whole season. Poison was still an option, but I had saved it for last on purpose. I knew that it was terrible for the environment in so many ways, but I justified it by only using half as much as the box suggested. It worked.

   My tree no longer looked mangy. I was winning the war, but after a week or so I started finding the bite marks again. Most of the fruit that was nearly ripe had disappeared entirely.

   I bought another box of the poison. It worked so well—how could I not?  I needed to knock out their army. No more warning shots. I poured out the entire box, using even more than I was instructed to. And this would be it. One heavy blow, and then no more poison. Maybe some traps for good measure, but no more poison.    One morning I found the cat. The sweet neighbor cat that was practically ours.  She had trusted us. She couldn’t have gotten into the poison. She was smarter than that. After the nets went up, she left the tree alone. But she hadn’t left the rats alone. Not far from her soft body was a limp, partially eaten rat. It’s innards more toxins than blood. I was able to get a decent crop of oranges, but all of the fruit was bitter. The next year, I let the rats have it.


Molly Osborne is a Portland, Oregon based writer. She has fiction in STORGY, Bewildering Stories, and Button Eyes Review. When she isn’t writing, she works in stop motion animation production. She is currently writing a speculative fiction novel for adults.


“The Seven-Horsed Chariot” Dark, Legendary Fiction by Hareendran Kallinkeel

Dust rises, thick clouds, from a land, arid, like a drought-hit terrain, as horses gallop along the mountain path, dragging a chariot.

Inside his cozy abode, Jay feels the tremors beneath his naked feet, hears the hooves’ click-clack, and smells earth’s heady aroma.

Wrinkles on skin, his age reflect; creams and lotions, smeared and massaged in plenty, lend an outward shine. Hours in saunas, scathing steams in Jacuzzi, bubbling water around him, bath gel refreshing, a daily indulgence, like a vice.

Yet, the youth he desires, desperately, doesn’t return.

Near his ear, a whisper, the charioteer, “the chariot’s ready.”

Jay, anxious, heart pounding, tongue itching, “Just a sec,” removes his slacks, reaches for the bedside cabinet.

Baccarat, a touch of the royal, perfume to entice girls; caviar from the fridge, for its salty tang, to stimulate blood in his veins…   

Escapade-ready, he grabs the reins.

“You sure,” charioteer’s quip, “you can take control?”

The pull of chariot makes the charioteer silent.

Hind legs firm on the ground, forelegs thrown high, mane swaying, the horses neigh before they start off.

Leather swishes, whip lashes, stallions race forth.

The chariot gains speed; wheels roll over pebbles, cause jolts and jerks.

“Still sure,” charioteer’s quiz, “you can handle it?”

Veins in Jay’s forearms grow taut as he pulls at the reins, takes control. “We’re here.”

A girl, prostrate, rests on the grassy knoll as if she’s hugging the earth.

Skirt hiked up, its gilded hem flaps against the curve of her buttocks, in tandem with the breeze. Moonlight renders her dusky skin an ethereal gleam. Jay smacks his lips.

He breathes the scent of jasmine, emanating from the garland coiled like a white serpent around her braid, black like a king cobra, as if in the act of mating. “Kudos! Great meal, indeed,” he says.    

“I’ll wait here.” The charioteer bids adieu.

Jay approaches the girl, goes down on his knees. Fire, bright orange, erupts around them, smokeless, heatless, yet with vigor that still scorches skin.

He yanks off her skirt, straddles her butt. She stirs, begins to speak.

Jay seals her mouth with his lips, steals her voice. He enters her and feels the heat that boils, coils around him, a whirlpool of hellfire.

He thrusts, only to feel the chill of frigid vacuum, a vortex churning down to the belly of an ice-cold ocean. In his confusion, he rolls over, feels the prick of grass along his frail body.

The girl stands up, embers flaring in her eyes.

“A myth, I am, as much a legend as you are” quips she, “so, better you hear me out.” A white shawl around her neck flows like a cascade of milk behind her as she walks toward him.

Jay feels the warm air turn cold, the chillness grip his intestines, move further down.

“Who are you?” The quivering in his voice, shivering in his body, palpates on his eardrums.

“From hell, I rise,” she says, “call me by any name you’re comfortable with; maybe Succubus, or Lilith, does it matter really?”

“What…” Jay wants, so badly, to sit upright. His numb limbs refuse to oblige. “What do you want?”

“I’ve consummated your dream,” she places her right foot on his chest. “Painted it lush, with an earthly girl, whom you desired…”  

As her foot presses down on him, Jay, breathless, sinks. Sand rises, a gigantic wave, crashes on him. He drowns further into an abyss; granules of earth rush into his nose and mouth, salty, choking, yet tangy, like the blood he relishes.

He makes feeble attempts to break free of the undulating currents of soil, but fails.

A few moments later, she drags him up, pulling by the collar of his shirt.

Jay sits up, the ground now firm beneath him. He coughs, spits blood, and tastes its stale flavor.

“The blood of the victims you so greedily devoured. Let it pour out…”

“Why you’re…”

She holds her hand up. “I’ve taken all your strength. Drained you of your energy…”

“You, what…”

“You’ll never again,” she says. “Ride your chariot drawn by seven horses, each representing a deadly sin.

Jay slumps to the ground, tired, drained of desires. He hears the click-clack of his chariot slowly die away in the distance.


Hareendran Kallinkeel writes from Kerala, India, after a stint of 15 years in a police organization and five years in the Special Forces. He reads for Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores and is also a Staff Reviewer for Haunted MTL Magazine. His recent publications include The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Bryant Literary Review of Bryant University, The Chamber Magazine, and El Portal Journal of Eastern New Mexico University, among several others. His fiction is forthcoming in 34 Orchard, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Untenured Journal. His fiction has been nominated for Pushcart Prize and he is also a finalist of the Best of the Net-2020. 


“The Text” Dark Flash Fiction by Christy Byrd

Jackie’s eyes fluttered open as her phone dinged – a new text.

A simple “I love you, mom” from her 20-year-old daughter, Lauren. Jackie believed the evidence was too damning.

When was the last time she said, “I love you”?

Not once in over three years.

Something was wrong.

Jackie called Lauren the second she read the text. Lauren’s voicemail message played in her ear, “Hey it’s Lauren. You know what to do.”

She hung up and jumped from her chair knocking over the wine she had sitting on the edge of the table next to her. The book she had on her lap before she fell asleep tumbled into the puddle of wine, coloring the cover red. It was her favorite book, but she had no time to worry about that now. She needed to get to Lauren’s apartment, and fast.

Jackie ran to the foyer, grabbed her car keys, and fumbled with the front door.

She pulled out of her driveway so quickly the smell of burning rubber lingered in the air.

Visions of Lauren were racing through her mind: her first smile as a newborn, her first steps as a toddler, her first A in school, her first college acceptance letter.

“This cannot be happening,” Jackie said under her breath as she raced ever closer to Lauren’s apartment. Her thoughts were racing faster than her speeding car.

She’s just in the shower. That’s it. I’m crazy. Right? She’s just in the shower, and she’ll call me back and tell me how crazy I am before I even get there.

She pulled into the apartment complex faster than should have been humanly possible. Ripping the keys from the ignition, she ran towards apartment 4B. Not sure what she was walking into, she braced herself before searching through her keys for the one Lauren had given her months before.

“For emergencies only,” Lauren had said.

Half expecting to hear Lauren yelling at her for invading her privacy, Jackie burst through the front door.

She heard nothing but silence.

“Lauren?” She said to the still air.

Silence.

“Lauren!” She said a little louder as she frantically began searching the small apartment.

From living room to kitchen and back again, the last place she could search was the bedroom and attached bathroom. She once again braced herself before opening the bedroom door.

The room appeared empty. The bed was made, the laundry basket empty, the surfaces clear of any dust or debris. Everything appeared to be in order. Tidy, organized, and normal. “A place for everything and everything in its place” her grandmother used to say.

Jackie turned toward the bathroom knowing it was the last place to look. She braced herself one last time before opening the door.

Empty.

Where could she be?

The room began to spin. Her stomach began to lurch.

She checked her phone for a missed call only to realize the text from her daughter was no longer there.

What is happening?

A man appeared behind her. “What are you doing out of bed, Jackie?”

The room continued to spin as she collapsed onto the floor.

*****

Her eyes slowly opened. Looking around, she noticed her cherry juice had fallen onto the floor creating a red puddle that led under her bed. In the puddle was a magazine entitled “Aspire Design and Home.” A clean and organized bedroom graced the cover.

4B was posted on the door to her left.

To her right, machines continuously beeped.

“Lauren,” she said, remembering the text she received.

She attempted to sit up but was held in place by leather straps restraining her arms to the bed.

“Lauren!” she yelled. “Lauren, please help!”

A man in all white entered the room. “Jackie. Lauren is gone. She’s been gone for three years.”

“No. You’re lying. I just read a text from her. She said…. she said…” she trailed off as she tried to remember the words.

“You know there are no phones allowed. Lauren was in a car accident. Remember?” The man pulled out a newspaper clipping and showed it to her: “20-year-old Lauren Farr was involved in a fatal car accident after sending one last text to her mother: I love you, mom. Realizing her brake lines had been cut by an ex-lover, Lauren wanted her last message…”

Jackie couldn’t read on. “This is all a lie. Why are you doing this? Where’s Lauren? Lauren! Where are you, baby?” She strained harder against the restraints until her wrists began to bleed.

The man raced to her bedside and pressed a button on the side of the bed.

A few moments later, more men in white entered the room. They surrounded Jackie and began to pin her even further into the bed.

“Alright, Jackie. Time for your meds,” one of the men said as he stuck a needle in her left arm.

Jackie’s vision began to blur as she lost consciousness.

*****

Jackie’s eyes fluttered open as her phone dinged – a new text.


Christy Byrd (she/her) is a current student at Full Sail University where she is working on her Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. She also holds an Associate’s degree in Biomedical Science. When she’s not writing, she is relaxing in her NJ home with her husband, dog (Starfire), and cat (Raven). 


“Liquid Asylum” Dark Flash Fiction by Margaret Sefton

We think you should know, dear ones, ones who have passed on, ones who live in the street, ones who have killed and molder in prison, ones who live in underground spaces—forgotten under cities until money and children and food go missing; until abandoned houses are destroyed; until libraries, parks, and public places reek of unseemliness—we will never leave you, we the representatives of who you were before you were placed on operating tables, drilled clean through your skull, hammered through your eye socket, shocked with insulin and electricity, precious memories flying, shrieking, from your skin, old personalities, pleasures, predilections lingering saddened, forlorn, in corners of the operating room.

See? The doctors and nurses and orderlies said. We don’t have to put them in cages. Look! We don’t have to put them in straitjackets. No longer the padded cell! And yet we said to you, we pointed this out dear ones: Your tongues are now so jammed in your mouths you can barely speak. They congratulate themselves while you convalesce in the infirmary. They smoke cigarettes outside behind the surgery and there is wine and beer on breaks and a cake to celebrate the next hundred-batch and sex in the janitor’s closet. And finally, families can bring their smiles to the common areas and feel relieved they are not pretending.

We the spirits of this place, the spirits that gathered when the town said we will build buildings for a keeping of those not fit to live among us, we those spirits want you to know we have been watching you and know you, and not your spirit of violence and destruction, of hate, but the spirit you can’t remember now, the one born of God, the one you believe you will recapture in order to get married again, the one you believe will help you regain the respect of your children and community, the one your mother and your father believe is waiting to break through the face you present, the one behind the blank mind and addled tongue.

For those who are dead, who lived in an even more draconian era, we saw your hands drift up uncontrollably to pat the space on your head where a drill bored through, the drill taking you with it, leaving you sensitive to light and noise, any disruption to a mellow day which means just about any sound, any sound flowing, finding its lowest point in the drain in the top of your head. And for those of you who became like power plants with nothing but current running through or for those of you whose bodies were flooded through with insulin or tranquilizing substances over and over, or those subjected to the mind-numbing pill cup, regular as communion, regular as Christ’s body, you were just as fucked. We say to all of you, both the living and the dead: We have your memories up here on a shelf. You may never get them back fully, but we keep them here and send them back in little batches like molded leaves rotting on trees, memories of leaves, veiny outlines, lace.

When you come back in your mind to us no matter where you are—the flophouse, the prison cell, the cardboard box, six feet under, the bungalow with a picket fence—we know you want the whole thing back, what you were, or, more accurately, could have been. You are with us in spirit, and we meet you in the air while you drift in your dreams. We meet you to try to help you find what you are looking for. In your mind you go back to the place where you lost yourself; you go back to your old bedlam; you come home to us, your home you never intended to consider home, and yet it was the site of your birth, a terrible birth of a broken self. Yet here we keep who you were for you, who you used to be. You will find your old self here, we promise, if only you return to make yourself whole among us again, to confront your executioners as they say. It is not as haunted as tourists say, you know that. Foolish people like to give themselves a shiver by spending a night in restraints. Idiots. We have half a mind to show them real fear, but it would be a waste, alas.

You were the real beauty and the romance. My, how we miss you, our beautiful, broken ones! Bring your old and weary bones to lie here again and let us give you back to your old self. Your memories await. So too the tears you cannot cry being too feeble to feel. We will give your young self to you whole, along with your pleasures and a deep and lasting sleep if you come to us and find your home once more in the bosom of health. It did not happen the first time—the wholeness, the health—but let us try again. Please.


Margaret Sefton has a graduate degree in storytelling but she has always been a professional liar. She may be found cooking up dark fiction and rich stews in a fortified bunker in central Florida. Some of her thoughts and tales may be found on her blog Within a Forest Dark


“A Personality Examination, Among Other Things” Flash Fiction by Ara Hone

Your leadership style bears examination because of the coup. The personality brochure distilling complex human traits into four categories rests in your hands, pretending to help, but you flip a bird. The world’s end is a damned inconvenient time to grapple with temperament. The glossy, color-coded brochure smugly insists now is always perfect for self-reflection.

Your needle pegs red. Why are controlling personalities always labeled as the color red, as though red signifies rage? You flick past those pages; your index finger wetted for better traction. The snapping echoes off the cave walls crowding close, like the traitors who gathered with cool disdain at your so-called trial.

You rip out a page and wad it. No faceless trait scientist [literally faceless by now, you’ll bet] will convince you that waiting and starving is superior in strategy to striking and running. You’re still standing. The dumb fuck who wrote this brochure likely isn’t.

D = Director: You don’t just occupy your space; you own it. Among Other Things, you are human. Your blood-under-the-nails instincts rule. You bare your teeth, grip your knife, and scream into the inkiness: Come and get me!

BUT

Your rust weeps from too many cuts and slicks your leathers. Your heart pounds as rapidly as the boots that wrestled you here. Your propensity for flashy victories [their words, not yours] comes at the expense of friends, family, and followers, and those remaining seek vengeance, indeed, not truth.

I = Influencer: [Amusing, right?] The brochure claims you’re possessed of a negotiator’s DNA, illustrated by the color blue [never your favorite]. You don’t simply pursue agreement: you alert on the tiniest advantage to your agenda.

A parlay Among Other Things was brilliant; negotiations would have established leverage for humans. But you, a self-proclaimed chameleon, utterly failed to spot the inside double-cross. The slaughter’s stink still swirls your senses.

A snarl reverberates off the cave walls. Sick gurgles in your belly. You’re about to die, but two points bear further hashing.

S = Statesperson. Point one: 99.9 percent of [remaining] humanity hides, shunning controversy like the proverbial plague, which isn’t proverbial anymore. But you? You strap on the brochure’s canary yellow and bore through conflict like debris through a black hole [which is how those motherfreaks got here] because, Among Other Things, conflict is their language, and you’re now fluent in their tongue.   

Point number two: Loyalty matters. You’re humanity’s leader [okay, were]. You accept that leaders are flashing neon targets [for dissenters to take aim] but taking an arrow from within your ranks from someone you love[d]? That’s just…wrong.

Shivers quicken your hands, the ones that cradled your boy’s body the same day the man who shared your heartbeat laid the blame of his death at your feet. You should have been wary of the shadows entering his gaze. He betrayed you at the parlay and disappeared, leaving you to explain how you’d never sell out humankind to invaders.

Blood dopps onto the brochure from the G your former followers carved into your brow.

[G for guilty.]

You crumple the entire brochure and drill it into the darkness.

Snarls unfurl a heartbeat’s distance away.

A good thing you’re a

C = Cog-nator: Go-go juices spurt into your limbs. Your breath feathers hot over your lips. You hold, hold…a force drives you back. You strike. The stink is palpable, Among Other Things. You plunge the blade down and in. The tip skips off bone, but you keep pressing. [The high-pitched squeal is yours.] Bone is an organic component comprised of collagen protein. The major minerals are calcium and phosphate. Bone is hard; it is not the brochure’s green like tree saplings. You fight.

Among Other Things, if you fight, you will survive.

It turns out, self-reflection for healing is worth the sweat.

You’ve been judged, dumped, and left for dead, but you are who you are.

You’ve made mistakes—sure. But no color-coded brochure of red, blue, yellow, or green encapsulates you.

An apocalyptic plague of aliens from the stars is self-explanatory: humans didn’t start this crap. The self-healing process lets you see that peoples’ thoughts about you don’t matter.

Only living does.

Because Among Other Things, you are unique, and you’ve done your best. You will overcome. You will rise from the pit. You will choose to forgive and, in turn, be forgiven.

Humanity needs you, so you’ll lead again.

Among Other Things, the victory will be yours, and one by one, all the things coming against you die at your feet.


Ara Hone writes speculative fiction. Before that, she climbed grain silos to admire sunsets, joined the military when it wasn’t cool, and survived a sales career. She adores a great TV series and editing stories for Flash Fiction Magazine. Her best advice? Drink coffee daily. @ara_hone


“For Laura” Dark Drabble by Gary Thomson

Laura comforts her aged mother at the front door. The auctioneer has stripped the house  of furniture and function. She is grateful her mother has retained some personal treasures: reclining chair, reading lamp, worn photo album. 

            What keepsake for me, Laura wonders, to soften memories of lonely childhood among shadowy rooms bereft of easy affection?

            “Your bed at Sunny Vale is waiting, mom. You’ll sleep easier tonight.”

            Mrs. Gibson hands Laura a foggy, creased photo. A handsome man with lowered, haunted eyes. Her father: long departed, barely remembered. 

            “Do ghosts remain at home?” her mother says. “Or will they travel too?” 


Gary Thomson lives in Ontario, where he enjoys riffing Beatles and blues on his Hohner harmonica between writing projects. His flash has appeared in Molecule, fiftywordstories [4], Fairfield Scribes, among others; and longer fiction elsewhere. 


“Son” Flash Horror by K.A. Williams

I discarded the name tag. There was only one reason I was here. I wanted to see Craig.

“Doris, is that you?”

“Yes.”

“You look well,” he lied.

“Can we talk in private?”

He reluctantly followed me into the elevator. When it stopped on the newly renovated hotel floor, Craig followed me out.  

He kicked aside a sheet of plastic and glared. “Your family moved while you were still pregnant, and you never even told me when you had the baby. What do you want from me now?”

“I’ve decided that it’s your turn to care for him. Come on out Tony, and meet your father.”

Our child appeared in the deserted hallway, his shadow dancing on the freshly painted walls. Craig gasped. It wasn’t the sunken eyes and frail body that frightened him, it was the slit in Tony’s face where a mouth should have been.

“He’s deformed,” Craig said with revulsion.

“Yes, and he’s been living off my blood since he was born. Now it’s your turn.”

A long thin tube flicked out of the slit in Tony’s face, attached itself to Craig’s wrist, and pierced the skin. Craig made a gurgling sound in his throat and slid down the wall, eyes glazed.

Now that I was free, what would I do next? Anything but return to that boring reunion.


First published in Black Petals in 2001.


K. A. Williams lives in North Carolina and writes speculative, mystery/crime, general fiction, and poetry. She has been published in many magazines including Mystery Tribune, Trembling With Fear, Theme of Absence, Altered Reality, Yellow Mama, and View From Atlantis. Apart from writing, she enjoys rock music and CYOA games.


“At the Museum of Art” and “Arriving at the Pearly Gates” Dark Flash Fiction by Karen Watts

At the Museum of Art

The top of her face is deeply lined and pasty, and the rest hidden beneath fabric. She looks old, and tired, and the crick in her spine gives her stance a defeated slouch.

The mob around her is restless and ragged. Their eyes are pale and searching, waiting, hoping, for a divine intervention, and some kind of meaning, to heal their wounds hidden and jagged.

They are the survivors of pestilence. A crowd of miserable souls, gathered to stare mindlessly at a world bathed in hellish fire and disease. They appear ready to move as one.

I move my gaze from the window pane to the Exhibition of Medieval Plague Art, and our tour group shuffles forward.

Arriving at the Pearly Gates

He’d fought the good fight. After many long years he was going to his reward. He was surrounded by his family, except for that whore of a granddaughter, and that son who could never stay clean and sober.

He’d always adhered to the right, quoting scripture for all to hear, sort of, when he could remember the words. His bible stayed in the glove compartment with his pistol, and some questionable beef jerky.

None of that mattered now, as the doctor signed on the dotted line, and the nurse shut down the machines.

There was no stately, robed saint guarding the door. A line of souls he almost remembered waited, and his chest began to burn as he saw their faces. Punches thrown to punish, spit hurled to degrade and shame, he didn’t know all their names, but he remembered their faces. Why were they here?

The woman from the clinic line, the gay guy he had fired, that bum he threw out of the church parking lot, his hippie neighbors, they sighed as one, turned and vanished in a cloud of yellow and blue light. The black and burning embers of his soul exploded, and a scream that would last for eternity began, as fiery angels feasted on his heart.


Karen Southall Watts teaches Humanities at Bellingham Technical College, and Business Soft Skills courses for Canadian College. Her flash fiction and poetry have been featured at Fairfield Scribes, Free Flash Fiction, The Drabble, 101Words, and soon at Sledgehammer Lit and Soren Lit. She is also the author of several business books and articles. Reach her at @askkaren on Twitter 


“And” Dark Flash Fiction by Grove Koger

He was an evil little boy and he did evil things. Everybody was afraid of him and nobody could stop him.

Once he brought a dead crow back to life, watched it bounce on the roadway and sweep backward on a gust of wind that only it felt, listened to it caw angrily as it vanished in the leaden sky. That should have been a good thing, bringing that bird back to life, but somehow it wasn’t. Another time he made it rain real hard on the last day of school. The picnic had to be canceled and the mother of one of his classmates died in a flash flood. She had the cancer, and her death could have been a good thing, a blessing. But it wasn’t. Another time—

But there had been a lot of other times.

Now he walked down the middle of the road, confident that any drivers from around there would know enough to steer around him. And they did. The other boys walked a few steps behind, afraid to anger him by getting too close or hanging too far back. Then he stopped, right about where that damn crow had been lying, and looked around.

“I can make all this go away,” he said.

They stopped too, looked around too. Had they heard him right? All what? All this? There were fields of stubble, shacks here and there, stands of black locust. Just those and the dusty road. It was that kind of place.

“I can make all this go away,” he said again, more thoughtfully this time, turning back to say it. It was a terrible sight, the little boy’s face screwed up in thought, and it made the others even more nervous than they were already.

He looked down at his right hand, moved his fingers this way and that, feeling his way … back. As if he were remembering something, something he had known a long time ago. But that was impossible, he hadn’t been here a long time ago. Had he?

He touched his thumb to one finger and then another, feeling his way. No, not that one. Not that one, not that one. That one.

The evil little boy grinned, and that was a terrible sight too. He set his thumb back against his middle finger—that one—and clenched them together, and—


Grove Koger is the author of When the Going Was Good: A Guide to the 99 Best Narratives of Travel, Exploration, and Adventure, Assistant Editor of Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal, and former Assistant Editor of Art Patron.


“Traffic Light Revenge” Flash Fiction by Niles Reddick

When I left home at 5:00 a.m., I didn’t see a vehicle on the road as I meandered the neighborhood and the main road arteries to get to the bypass. A bypass, by definition, shouldn’t have traffic lights, especially ones that aren’t synchronized. To have them interrupts the flow of traffic. The glaring red light functions like a clot in the bloodstream. I did not mind stopping, being the obedient, law-abiding citizen I’ve been, but I’ll admit that I cursed several times and even flipped off the camera.

There were three other traffic lights between the first one and where I exited the bypass to get to my office, and at each one, I had to stop and wait on absolutely nothing. By the time I got to work, I got involved with finding keys to unlock the building, the office complex, and finally my own office, and forgot all about the traffic lights until the next morning when all three of the bypass lights were green and stayed green the entire trip to my office, but on Wednesday, the third work day, I encountered all red traffic lights again.

When I got to my office, I waited until the city offices were open, and I called the traffic control office and got voice mail. I decided to go to the office, share with them that one day the lights are synchronized and one day they aren’t. I figured they would appreciate my concerned citizen report, and I fantasized I might even get some sort of commendation from the Mayor. I found the office in the basement of City Hall, went in, and saw a fellow watching a control board with several monitors.

“May I help you? This office isn’t open to the public.”

“I’m sorry, but the door was open.”

“The custodian probably left it open. They don’t clean any better than they keep doors locked around here.”

“Well, I wanted to share a problem I’ve encountered with the traffic lights on the bypass.”

“You’ll have to email traffic@city.gov and report your issue there.”

“Who does that go to?”

“Well, technically, it comes to me, and if I don’t address it, I send it up to the mayor’s office and they pass to who it needs to go to.”

“I see. I’ll be glad to send an email but let me at least tell you the problem while I’m here. You see, some mornings on my way into the city via the bypass, the lights are synchronized, and I get all green ones, like Tuesday, but other days, they aren’t, and there’s no traffic. So, as you can see, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be all green.”

“What do you drive?”

“A 4-Runner?”

“White?”

“Yes, why?”

“Did you flip me off and mouth curse words on Monday to the camera?”

“Yes, I did. How do you know that? What does that matter?”

“It matters. I saw you as I was refilling my coffee.”

“Well, I realize I shouldn’t have probably done that, but I didn’t know anyone was watching.”

“I’m off on Tuesday, so I wasn’t watching yesterday.”

“They were all green yesterday!”

“Yes, I know they were. They’ve never filled the part time position in this office, so when I’m off, no one is monitoring the lights.”

“This is crazy.”

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to step in here.”

“I’m not stepping in there. I need to get back to work, but when I do, I’m going to report you to the Mayor and the police. I think you’re crazy.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll have to ask you to step in here, again.” He pulled a gun from his pants’ pocket, aimed it at the visitor’s head.

“Why? Put that gun down. You have no idea who you are dealing with.”

“I’m sorry it has come to this, but you have too much information. Honestly, you won’t feel a thing when you step into this closet. I’ll shoot you, and then, you’ll fall into a drain that will take you directly to the sewer. The rats will take care of all the evidence.”

“What about my car outside? They’ll know I was here.”

“No, they won’t. Your car will be towed, and they don’t keep records. You’ll also get a ticket in the mail for running the first light on the bypass, but your wife will come in to pay it, and I may ask her out once a little time has passed. I’ve seen her in the Infiniti convertible, putting on lipstick, flashing her teeth, and checking her eye make-up. She’s pretty.”

“Please, I’m begging you. Don’t point that gun at me. This is nuts.”

The gun went off, and the traffic controller said, “That’ll teach you.” After the splash in the sewer, the traffic controller went back to his cameras and said to the convertible Infiniti at the first light on the bypass. “Well, hello there. See you in a couple of weeks.”


Niles Reddick is author of a novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in seventeen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIFNew Reader MagazineForth Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine.